How do you choose the right school leaver programme for you?

How do you choose the right school leaver programme for you?
Our checklist of questions will help you research apprenticeships and other school leaver programmes and decide where to apply.

There is a huge variety of apprenticeships and school leaver programmes out there and you need to be as fully informed as possible to make the right choice for your future. We’ve put together a checklist of questions to help you pin down what different programmes have to offer and work out which would be best for you. It’s essential to know what you’re signing up for – and what you stand to get out of it.

Do you have the right qualifications to apply?

Check the criteria carefully.

  • What are the GCSE requirements? Many school leaver programmes and apprenticeships specify that you must have a minimum of five GCSEs at grade A to C, including English and maths.
  • What are the A level or UCAS points requirements? Employers may specify the grades and subjects they want. In many cases, for the most popular school leaver programmes, the grades required would be enough to get you into a leading university.

If you don’t have the right grades but are convinced you’d be a good fit for the school leaver programme in every other way and have strengths in other areas that you could highlight, it could be worth contacting the recruitment team to ask if it they would consider your application anyway.

If you don’t have the right grades and have mitigating or extenuating circumstances such as a family bereavement or serious illness, you should contact the recruitment team to see if this can be taken into account.

Are there any other requirements?

For some programmes, you may need to pass a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check. A DBS check allows employers to access the criminal record history of people who are applying for work. You may also need references, proof of your right to work or immigration and nationality status, and, for some roles, security clearance.

What qualifications will you get out of it?

There is a lot of variation in the qualifications on offer from school leaver programmes and apprenticeships. Some big employers run a range of different schemes for school leavers, with each programme offering a slightly different package of work, training and qualifications. It is vital to research what is available and be clear about what you want.

There is a national framework for apprenticeships that defines the level of qualifications on offer. However, there is no such framework for school leaver programmes and it is up to individual employers to decide what to offer. A higher apprenticeship leads to a nationally recognised qualification at level 4 or above. Level 4/5 qualifications are equivalent to a higher education certificate, higher education diploma or a foundation degree (the first year of a degree), while level 6 is equivalent to a bachelor’s degree and level 7 is equivalent to a master’s degree.

Some employers offer school leavers the chance to study for professional qualifications that are also taken by their graduate recruits, such CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) qualifications. Make sure you check the detail of what is on offer carefully.

Here are some questions to bear in mind as you assess the qualifications on offer from different apprenticeships and school leaver programmes:

  • Do you know what you want to do career-wise? If you’re not sure about the profession you want to enter at this stage, you might be better off keeping your options open by going on to study for a traditional university degree.
  • School leaver programmes and apprenticeships often specialise in specific areas of work within a profession. Are you ready to specialise in this way? Are you sure you have found the right specialism for you?
  • If you know what you want to do, which school leaver programmes or apprenticeships offer the right qualifications to set you up for the career you want?

If you are sure about your overall direction but not sure about the specific area of work, for example if you want a career in finance but are not sure that you wish to specialise in audit, you should ask the recruiter if it is possible to move into other service lines such as consulting after you have qualified. However, you should phrase the question carefully, as you don’t want to imply that you don’t really want to work in audit. Aim to emphasise the positive – for example, you could say that you are interested to know whether there would be any potential to change direction if you find that you are very strongly drawn to another area once you have gained expertise and are much more familiar with various aspects of the employer’s work. Think about your timing, too – consider asking this question either before you apply or once you have a job offer and are deciding whether to accept it.

Some recruiters run events to help you find out more about the nature of the work involved in their school leaver programmes, and it’s well worth making the time to attend these.

How will your career prospects compare to a graduate recruit’s?

When you’ve finished your school leaver programme or apprenticeship, what kind of role will you be able to move on to? Will you be doing the same kind of work as a graduate recruit, and how will your salary compare? Will your prospects for career progression and promotion be the same as a graduate’s? Find out as much as you can about the future career path that will be opened up for you by the school leaver programme or apprenticeship you are considering applying for.

What support will you have?

Make sure you check out the support that will be available as part of your apprenticeship or school leaver programme. Here are some examples of what might be on offer:

  • Mentor – a more senior member of the business who will provide advice and support with your long-term career aspirations.
  • Social events and activities such as regular drinks for employees in your area of the business and extracurricular activities such as a choir, football or netball.
  • The chance to join employee networks.

How much will you be expected to travel?

Depending on your role, you may be expected to travel frequently. Aim to find out where you will be based and how much time you will be spending elsewhere. For example, you might spend some time in the office and some time at college, or you might be expected to travel to different offices or branches. Make sure you are happy with the amount of travel involved and check whether the costs of travel will be met by your employer.

What kind of contract will they offer? Is there a sting in the tail?

Before you take up an offer of a place on a school leaver programme, you should find out whether you are being taken on as a permanent employee, with access to the same benefits. Some school leaver programmes recruit candidates as permanent employees but on a training contract that ends with the programme, so there is no firm guarantee of a job at the end of it. However, don’t let this put you off: it’s worth knowing where you stand, but you should also remember that a company is unlikely to invest in training you and then cut you loose. In any case, if you did find yourself job-hunting at the end of your programme, your work experience and qualifications would put you in a strong position.

You should also find out what will happen if you leave the programme early. For example, you might be asked to pay towards some of the costs of the training you have received. If this kind of information isn’t readily available on the employer’s website or in the school leaver programme brochure, ask the recruitment team after you’ve received an offer and before you accept it. It’s a good idea to ask for details about the training on offer at interview stage, and you can also ask what other employees on the school leaver programme have gone on to do after finishing it, but you risk creating a bad impression if you ask about leaving the programme before the employer has even decided whether to take you on.

What is the salary and benefits package?

One of the biggest incentives for choosing the school leaver programme route rather than traditional university study is the chance to avoid debt and gain qualifications while earning. You’ll want to check out salary details carefully and compare the pay on offer to the debts and earning potential you could have as a graduate.

Bear in mind that some apprenticeships and school leaver programmes offer wages that increase with each year of the programme. You may also have access to a package of employee benefits ranging from a season ticket loan and help with relocation costs to gym membership and private medical cover.

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